Read The Sword of Destiny Online

Authors: Andrzej Sapkowski

Tags: #Andrzej; Sapkowski; Witcher; Sword; Destiny

The Sword of Destiny

BOOK: The Sword of Destiny
6.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The Limits of the Possible

i

"He's not coming back out, I tell you!" stated a pimply-faced man, shaking his head with finality. "It's been an hour and a quarter since he went in. He's done for."

The townsfolk, huddled together in the midst of the ruins and rubble, watched the gaping black hole of the entrance to the tunnel in silence. A fat man dressed in a yellow smock shifted slightly from one foot to the other, cleared his throat and pulled his wrinkled cap from his head.

"We have to wait a bit longer," he said as he wiped the sweat from his sparse eyebrows.

"Why wait?" snorted pimply, "There in the caves lurks a basilisk, or have you forgotten, burgrave? Anyone goes down there, that's the end of them. Have you forgotten how many have died down there already? What are we waiting for?"

"This was the agreement, wasn't it?" murmured the fat man uncertainly.

"An agreement you made with a living man, burgrave" said the pimply-faced man's companion, a giant of a man in a leather butcher's apron. "He is now dead, as surely as the sun shines in the sky. It was plain from the beginning that he was headed towards death, like all the others before him. He didn't even take a mirror with him, only a sword - and everybody knows you need a mirror in order to kill a basilisk."

"At least we've saved some coin," added pimples "there's no one to pay for taking care of the basilisk. You might as well go home. As far as the sorcerer's horse and baggage... well it would be a shame if they went to waste."

"Yes," said the butcher, "It's a fine old mare and the saddlebags are full. Let's take a look."

"What are you doing?"

"Shut up, burgrave. Don't get in the way unless you want a punch in the face," threatened the pimpled man.

"A fine old mare," repeated the butcher.

"Leave the horse alone, my darling."

The butcher slowly turned around towards the stranger who had suddenly appeared from behind a collapsed wall, just at the back of the audience gathered around the tunnel entrance. The stranger had thick curly brown hair and wore a dark brown tunic under a puffy cotton coat and tall riding boots. He had no weapons.

"Step away from the horse," he repeated with a menacing smile. "What have we here? A horse and saddlebags belonging to another and yet you eye them greedily and paw through them. Is that honourable?"

Pimply slowly slipped a hand inside his overcoat and glanced at the butcher. The butcher gave a nod and signalled toward the crowd, out of which stepped two strong, close cropped, youths. Both carried heavy clubs, like those used to stun animals in the slaughterhouse.

"Who are you?" demanded the pimply-faced man, whose hand remained hidden inside his overcoat, "to tell us what is and isn't honourable?"

"That's none of your business, my dear."

"You carry no weapons."

"That's true," the stranger's smile grew even more poisonous, "I don't carry weapons."

"That's no good," pimply drew a long knife out from inside his coat, "Too bad for you you're not armed."

The butcher also drew a blade; a long hunting knife. The other two men approached, brandishing their clubs.

"I don't carry weapons," responded the stranger, not budging, "but I'm always armed."

From behind the ruins, two young women stepped out lightly and confidently. The crowd quickly parted, retreated then thinned out.

The girls smiled, flashing their teeth, and blinked. They had blue stripes tattooed from the corners of their eyes to the tips of their ears. Lynx pelt clad their strong muscles from thigh to hip and their bare arms curved above their mail gauntlets. From behind the mail-clad shoulder of each rose the hilt of a sabre.

Pimply got down on one knee and slowly, very slowly, placed his knife on the ground.

From the hole in ruins came a rumble of stones, grinding, and then from the darkness there emerged two hands clutching the jagged edge of the wall. Following the hands, a white head appeared, the hair powdered with brick dust, a pale face and then, finally, shoulders, above which stood the hilt of a sword. A murmur escaped the crowd.

The alabaster-haired man straightened and pulled a strange shape from the hole; a small, odd looking body covered in dust and blood. Holding the beast by its long lizard-like tail, the man tossed it to the feet of the burgrave without a word. The burgrave jumped backwards and tripped on a fragment of wall, his eyes glued to a curved bird-like beak, webbed crescent-shaped wings and claws like sickles on its scaly feet. Its slashed throat, once carmine, was now a dirty red-brown. Its sunken eyes were glassy.

"Here's the basilisk," said the white-haired man as he brushed the dust from his trousers, "As agreed, that'll be 200 lintars, good ones, not too worn. I will check them, I'm warning you."

With shaking hands, the burgrave produced a large purse. The white-haired man looked around at the townsfolk, his gaze resting on the pimply-faced man, his discarded knife at his feet. He also noticed the man in the brown tunic and the young women in the lynx pelts.

"It's always the same," he said as he took the purse from the burgrave's nervous hands, "I risk my neck for a few measly coins and you, meanwhile, try to rob me. You people never change, damn you to hell!"

"We haven't touched your bags," the butcher muttered, backing away. The men armed with the clubs had long since hidden themselves in the crowd. "Your things have not been disturbed, sir"

"I'm glad to hear it," the white-haired man smiled. At the sight of his smile, which bloomed on his pale face like an open wound, the crowd began to disperse. "And that is why, brother, you have nothing to worry about. Go in peace. But go quickly."

Pimply, backing away, was about to run. The spots stood out on his pallid face making him look even more hideous.

"Hey! Wait a minute!" called the man in the brown tunic, "You've forgotten about something."

"What's that... sir?"

"You pulled a knife on me."

The tallest of the young women, who stood waiting with her long legs apart, turned on her hip. Her sabre, drawn faster than the eye could see, cut through the air. The head of the pimply-faced man flew upwards, tracing an arc before disappearing into the gaping hole. His body rolled stiff and heavy, like a freshly felled tree, amongst the broken rubble. The crowd cried out in unison. The second girl, her hand on the hilt of her sabre, turned agilely, covering her back. It was unnecessary - the crowd rushed and stumbled through the ruins towards the town as fast as their legs could carry them. At the head of the crowd, leaping impressively, was the burgrave - slightly ahead of the butcher.

"A beautiful strike," commented the white-haired man coldly as he shielded his eyes from the sun with a black-gloved hand. "A beautiful strike from a Zerricanian sabre. I humbly bow before the skill and beauty of free warrior women. I am Geralt of Rivia."

"And I..." the unknown man indicated to a faded coat of arms emblazoned on his brown tunic representing three black birds aligned on a field of gold, "I am Borch, also called Three Jackdaws. And these are my bodyguards Tea and Vea. At least that's what I call them because their true names are a tongue twister. They are both, as you so finely guessed, Zerricanian."

"Thanks to them, or so it would seem, I still have my horse and belongings. My thanks to you, warriors, and also to you, noble lord."

"Three Jackdaws. And I'm no gentleman. Is there anything keeping you in this region, Geralt ofRivia?"

"Nothing at all."

"Perfect. In that case, I have a proposition. Not far from here, at the crossroads on the road to the river-port, is an inn called The Pensive Dragon. The food is unequalled throughout this whole region. I'm on my way there now with the intention of dining and spending the night. It would be an honour if you would accompany me."

"Borch," replied Geralt, white head turning away from his horse, looking into the bright eyes of the stranger, "I'd like you to know so that there be no misunderstanding between us. I'm a witcher."

"I thought as much. And you said that as if you were saying, 'I'm a leper.'"

"There are some," Geralt replied calmly, "that would prefer the company of a leper to that of a witcher."

"And there are others," replied Three Jackdaws with a smile, "who would prefer the company of sheep to that of young ladies. In the end, all I can do is pity them. I stand by my proposal."

Geralt took off a glove and shook the stranger's outstretched hand.

"I accept. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Let's be off then, I'm starving."

II

The landlord wiped the uneven surface of the table with a cloth, bowed and smiled. He was missing two front teeth.

"Yes..." Three Jackdaws stared for a moment at the blackened ceiling and watched the spiders walking playfully across it. "First... some beer. On second thoughts, a keg of beer. And with the beer... what do you recommend, my dear?"

"Cheese?" the landlord suggested uncertainly.

"No," frowned Borch, "Cheese should be for afters. With the beer we'd like something sour and spicy."

"At your service," the landlord smiled even wider. His two front teeth were not the only ones that he lacked. "How about eels marinated in garlic and vinegar, or green pickles..."

"Perfect. For two please. And after that, some soup. Like the one I ate last time with the mussels, small fish and other crap floating in it."

"Seafood soup?"

"Yes. Next, roast lamb with eggs and onions. Then about sixty crayfish. Throw some fennel into the pan, as much as you can muster. Then ewe's cheese and a salad. After that... we'll

see."

"At your service. Is that for everyone? All four of you?"

The tallest of the Zerricanians shook her head and patted her belly significantly, accentuating the way her linen shirt clung to her body.

"I forgot," Three Jackdaws winked at Geralt, "The girls are watching their figures. Landlord! Lamb only for us two. Bring the beer and eels immediately, leave the rest for a while so that the other dishes don't get cold. We didn't come here to stuff our faces, just to spend time in pleasant conversation."

"I understand completely, sir," replied the landlord, bowing once more.

"Understanding - this is an important quality in your line of work. Give me your hand, my beauty," gold coin jingled and the landlord smiled as widely as possible.

"This is not an advance," specified Three Jackdaws, "it's a little extra. Now get back to your kitchen, my good fellow."

It was hot in the alcove. Geralt loosened his belt, removed his doublet then rolled up the sleeves of his shirt.

"I see you're not troubled by lack of silver," he said, "Do you live by the privileges of knighthood?"

"Partly," Three Jackdaws smiled in answer and didn't elaborate.

They made short work of the eels and quarter of the beer barrel. Although the Zerricanians were obviously enjoying the evening, they did not drink much of the beer. They spoke together quietly until Vea suddenly burst into throaty laughter.

"Do the girls speak the common language?" asked Geralt as he watched them out of the corner of his eye.

"Badly. And they're not exactly chatterboxes, which is nice. How's your soup, Geralt?"

"Hmm."

"Drink up."

"Hmm."

"Geralt..." Three Jackdaws gestured with his spoon and belched discretely, "Returning for one moment to the conversation we had whilst on the road: it's my understanding, witcher,

that you wander from one end of the world to the other, killing any monsters you meet along the way - for pay. That is your job, isn't it?"

"More or less."

"What if somebody personally appeals to you to go somewhere specific? Say to carry out a special order. What do you do then?"

"That depends on who's asking me and what they have in mind."

"And the wages?"

"That too," the witcher shrugged, '"Everything becomes more expensive if you want to live well' as one of my magician friends likes to say."

"Quite a selective approach, and I would say very practical. Yet there is a certain principal underlying it, Geralt. The conflict between the forces of Order and those of Chaos, as one of my wizard friends likes to say. I imagine that you always take missions that involve protecting humans from the Evil that is all around us. Undoubtedly this places you on the good side of the fence."

"The forces of Order, the forces of Chaos... what grand words, Borch. You want at all costs for me to place myself on one side of the fence in a conflict that all regard as eternal, a conflict that's been going on since before we were born and will continue long after we're gone. On which side should the blacksmith place himself in this business? Or the landlord who hurries to bring us roast lamb? What, according to you, defines the boundary between Chaos and Order?"

"It's very simple," Three Jackdaws looked the witcher right in the eye, "Chaos represents a threat. It is on the side of violence and aggression. Order, on the other hand, opposes it. That is why it must be protected and needs someone to defend it. But let us drink and make a start on this lamb."

"Good idea."

Still concerned for their figures, the Zerricanians had taken a break from eating to devote themselves to drinking at an accelerated pace. Vea leaned on the shoulder of her companion, and murmured something in her ear, her braids brushing the tabletop. Tea, the shorter of the two, burst into laughter, her tattooed eyelids blinking merrily.

"Well," continued Borch, gnawing on a bone. "Let us continue our conversation, if you'll permit. I see that prefer not to take sides in the conflict between the forces. You just want to do your job."

"Yes."

"But you cannot escape the conflict between Order and Chaos. In spite of your comparison, you're not a blacksmith. I saw how you work; you enter an underground tunnel and come out of it with a small, mangled basilisk. There is a difference, my pretty, between shoeing horses

and killing basilisks. You've already indicated that you'll journey to the other side of the world to slay a certain monster if the pay is worth it. Let's say a fierce dragon destroys..."

BOOK: The Sword of Destiny
6.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Banquet for the Damned by Adam Nevill
Sutherland's Secret by Sharon Cullen
Counterfeit Son by Elaine Marie Alphin
Redeeming Gabriel by Elizabeth White
Bound by Marina Anderson
The Edinburgh Dead by Ruckley, Brian
Blood Cult by Page, Edwin
The Last Pilgrim by Gard Sveen